The Little Mermaid (2023)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Rob Marshall
Run Time
2 hours and 15 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Upon my bed at night
    I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him but found him not;
    I called him, but he gave no answer.

Song of Songs 3:1
She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:39-42
Ariel is the kind of princess we parents could wish our daughters to become. (c) Disney Studios

Any questions I had about the wisdom of remaking the classic film that revived the flagging Disney studio back in 1989 were quickly dissipated when Halle Bailey appears as Ariel, the unsatisfied daughter of underseas King Triton (Javier Bardem). This wonderful singer, whose voice can raise the rafters, greatly enhances the story, her beautifully tawny skin no doubt inspiring a new generation and race of young admirers, delighted at seeing a heroine that looks like themselves. Not all princesses come encased in a white skin—and as was evident from the beginning, Ariel is no passive maiden waiting for her prince to come to her—she is the one who rescues the prince!

Director Rob Marshall, of Chicago fame, has found just the right actress to fill Ariel’s long, trailing tail. The character is as boundary-breaking as Mary in Luke’s story about the woman who prefers to sit at Jesus’ feet listening to his teachings than preparing a meal with her sister in the kitchen. As she sings “Part Of Your World,” she looks over the myriad of trinkets she has gathered scouring the many shipwrecks at the bottom of the sea, including a fork. (This will be played for comedy later when, having no clue as to its purpose, she uses it to twirl her hair rather than to spear her food.) “Look at this trove, treasures untold/How many wonders can one cavern hold?” she sings, and continues, “But who cares? No big deal, I want more/I wanna be where the people are/I wanna see, wanna see ’em dancin’.” Clearly, she is the seeker, wishing to be human, and actress Halle Bailey perfectly embodies her!

Her exasperated father King Triton wants nothing to do with humans, considering them ruthless predators because they killed his wife. Ariel is heedless of his warnings and admonishments, so he assigns ghost crab Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) to keep track of Ariel and curtail her wanderings. This becomes impossible when, Ariel is drawn to the surface by the glare of fireworks from a ship. Aboard is Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) returning to port. She can hear the Prince talking with the Caribbean  kingdom’s Prime Minister Grimsby (Art Malik), about his desire to explore the larger world and improve the lives of the people of his kingdom. As Ariel is obsessed with things pertaining to land, he is fascinated with the sea and its contents—he too, we will see, has a collection of souvenirs, but they all are plucked from the sea.

Suddenly a tempestuous storm arises. Ariel watches the ship strike a rock and sink beneath the waves as the crew scramble aboard life boats. Eric is knocked unconscious into the waters. Spotting him sinking into the depths, Ariel swims down toward him, managing to lay hold of him and bring him to the beach that is just below his castle. The next morning Ariel lies beside him on the beach. He is just regaining consciousness, so he sees only blurrily her face, but hears her beautiful singing voice. As searchers from the castle draw near, Ariel slips back into the water, watching the group from afar carrying her find up the steep hill.

Ariel is now totally smitten. Enter octopus-bottomed sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), smoldering with resentment and hatred for her brother Triton because of a perceived past wrong. She is all malevolence, covered over with glamor, as she entices Ariel to make a Faustian bargain with her. She will use her magic to transform the mermaid into a human—but just for three days. And if the girl is unable to obtain from the Prince a true kiss of love, she will revert back to mermaid status, and her soul will belong to Ursula. Oh yes, and for those three days she will lose her voice.

On shore when Prince Eric regains consciousness, he sends out servants to search the island for the beauty to whom he owes his life. He did not get a clear view of her face, but he will never forget her voice. When a fisherman finds Ariel and brings her ashore, Prince Ric rushes to meet her. However, she cannot speak, so he turns away. Later they will met again as she explores the castle and discovers the collection from the sea that Eric has gathered. This will lead to Eric conducting Ariel on an excursion around the island. Sebastian the crab, Flounder a fish and Scuttle, a seabird, aware of the unfair bargain Ursula has made with Ariel, follow the pair in an attempt to induce the Prince into kissing their friend. They almost succeed, until Ursula herself appears, transformed into the beautiful Vanessa who uses Ariel’s siren voice to hypnotize him.

The next day Eric announces his engagement to Vanessa. A series of dramatic events will bring affairs to a violent confrontation between Ariel and Ursula, with Triton having to make the ultimate decision face by all parents who truly love their child. Like all love, parental love is able to let the child go, to become her own self.

Much has been made of the new songs added to the score, and there also is a new character in Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni), who is part of the backstory now given to the Prince. Turns out he was adopted by the Queen, and as was pointed out above, he too is a seeker, a kindred spirit to the curious Ariel. Enchanted by his rescuer’s voice, the Prince sings “Wild Uncharted Waters,” which expresses well his desire to find his rescuer, “Miles beyond the sea/I was darkness bound, I had almost drowned/’Til you came around, and you found me/Now I am on the shoreline/But I’m still lost at sea/in these wild uncharted waters/Come find me again.” This represents a huge shift in the Disney world—it is not the Prince, but the Princess who is the more active person in the story.

Space does not allow me to explore any further here the music, except to point out that the rollicking “Under the Sea”* is as compelling as ever, a feast both to the ear and the eye. As before, this is a cautionary song sung by Sebastian, who is attempting to quench Ariel’s desire to explore all things human. As colorful as it was in the original, it is even more so in this so-called “live” version—which is only half-true, because almost every scene in the film is CGI-enhanced. Just how infectious the tune and beat are I witnessed when, to my right a little girl who must have been about three, arose from her seat, her arms moving with the beat, her legs, and whole body, swinging rhythmically, totally caught up in the song. Musically, this steel drum-accompanied dance song is the highlight of the score with its myriad of dancing star fish, jelly fish, sea turtles, and a host of other colorful sea denizens. And I by no means intend to downplay the marvelous singing of Halle Bailey. After this star turn I don’t think anyone will ever ask, “Who is that”!

The new film’s plot is a little more complicated, and the running time a bit long for preschool children, but its spirit is infectious, reaching the hearts of young and old. For a film celebrating the restless spirit not satisfied with the status quo, as well as one commending female empowerment, this is a must-see film. I would place Ariel right up there alongside of Mary in Luke’s story of female empowerment. And of course, like The Song of Solomon, The Little Mermaid is a love story in which the lovers are equals.

*To see the original, animated version of this wonderful song on YouTube, complete with lyrics, click here. Although my search has not yet brought up a site that includes all of the song lyrics, I am sure there will be one in the near future (love the Internet contributors!), so keep checking. You can find some of the lyrics.

This review will be in the June issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

The Little Mermaid (2023) – IMDb

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *